That priest I wrote about on March 25, who offered some guest lectures to the seminarians, had a few more insights he shared with me outside of classroom that he gave me permission to (anonymously) share here. He’s been retired for a number of years. This priest, whom I will call Fr. C here, is a phenomenal priest, salt of the earth. After he spoke, I wrote these comments to a colleague about him:
Father C was in rare form today.
Pure grit poetry. Wonderfully off point, but absolutely on point.
As he spoke, I couldn’t help but think of what an Anglican biblical scholar I heard in Tallahassee – Dr. Kenneth Bailey – said: “For Jesus, the story was not simply an illustration of some greater concept, an anecdote, as it was for the Greeks. Rather, for Jesus, and for Semitic minds in general, the story is the point because reality is really an extended narrative; and divine revelation is not an idea, but a sojourning event.”
So, I love to say: hearing him speak is an event you go to, but an event that happens to you; a living text that reads you.
His Mass this morning [he celebrated a private Mass I attended] – it was an event, words that happen in and to you, and leave you shaken to the core. Also, whenever I’m around him, I feel more human. Wild, eh? But faith makes us more human, not less, right? But how rare it is in my experience to be with someone who can really make that happen — seemingly — all at once. Divinization is so obviously humanization when you’re around Fr. C.
In fact the way he told the story of “Joe” in the psych-ward yesterday — so gut wrenching — was so compelling in its truth, I don’t think I’ll ever examine my conscience the same again with that inhabiting my imagination.
Below is some of his simple, yet profound wisdom that I noted in my journal:
Fr. C said:
At this point in my life as a priest, it’s clear to me that all our frenetic busyness — all our busy busy busy and all our talking talking talking — so often masks our emptiness. Our pain. We distract ourselves; we’re masters of distraction. Who wants to face it? … All I want now, all I hope for now, is that the Lord lets me sit at His feet and listen to His voice; and just let Him know I’m there, listening. All relationships fall in place when that one is right … If you can listen to Him, and stay with Him, you can speak with authority; with power. His power. But if you don’t listen, it’s all just blah blah blah and going to an early grave. But for what?
Many years ago I was called by a family to minister to a young man. He was 24. He’d been burned over 95% of his body because he ran into a burning house to rescue his roommate. His family had traveled from the other side of the country and called me to visit him in the burn unit … He was naked, strung out in the net over the water and the nurses were carefully picking the dead skin off of him with tweezers. His eyes were fused shut. I came over to him, told him I was priest and asked if I could anoint him. He painfully nodded. I anointed him, as I could, and as I did I could see the nurses all were weeping. Then I absolved him and gave him communion. I told him I would come every day to stay with him. His family left and never returned again. Not even for the funeral. I don’t know why. One day, while I was with him, he tried to pull the tubes out of his throat, and I asked him to stop. I got the nurses. He gasped toward me and said in a gurgling voice: “Tubes-not-in-YOUR-throat.” But we stopped him. He slowly died over those two weeks, suffocated from the fluid build-up. I was helpless to do anything but be with him and pray. That’s when you really get to know Christ, in your face, at your nose. No sky-Jesus. Nailed-Jesus. The Cross. I could see Jesus slowly dying in him, helpless with him. There’s nothing to say, or do. You just stay with him. Emmanuel. Mane nobiscum, Domine, quoniam advesperascit, “Stay with us, O Lord, for evening comes…” (Luke 24:29). That’s our faith. It’s awesome. So much pain without hope in the world. If only Catholics knew this and lived the Gospel, this Gospel, what a different world we’d have.
Someone was telling me recently about the elaborate strategic plan their parish had devised .. I know you have to be prudent and plan and make it all practical; I get that … but I said to him, “That’s all fine, but don’t forget we have to start by reading the Gospel! The Gospel is where it’s at. It’s all there. The whole strategic plan of God.”
That last quote totally reminded me of a line in St. John Paul II’s Novo Millenio Inuente, where he says in #29:
“I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). This assurance, dear brothers and sisters, has accompanied the Church for two thousand years, and has now been renewed in our hearts by the celebration of the Jubilee. From it we must gain new impetus in Christian living, making it the force which inspires our journey of faith. Conscious of the Risen Lord’s presence among us, we ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37).
We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!
It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new program”. The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This program for all times is our program for the Third Millennium.